BUFFALO, NY - Toledo overcame a 15-point halftime deficit and pulled off a thrilling 77-75 victory at Buffalo on Saturday afternoon inside Alumni Arena. With the come-from-behind triumph, the Rockets' extend their win streak to a season-high five consecutive games and improve to 13-7 overall, 6-2 in the Mid-American Conference.
"I couldn't be more proud of our effort in the second half," two-time MAC Coach of the Year Tricia Cullop said. "I told the team at halftime that it wasn't about x's and o's. It was about giving more effort, and I wanted to know who wanted it more. This game could have gone either way, and we are fortunate it went our way."
Sophomore Andola Dortch paced the 2011 WNIT champions with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds in a team-high 37 minutes. Dortch was clutch in the final minutes of regulation, scoring five of the team's last seven points to help the 2010-11 MAC regular-season champs overcome a 49-34 deficit at the intermission.
"Andola knocked down some big shots for us in the second half," Cullop said.
Junior Yolanda Richardson contributed 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in a winning effort to post her fourth double-double of the season. Richardson was also credited with a contest-best four rejections against the Bulls (6-16, 1-7 MAC), surpassing Karin Hoogendam (138 blocks, 2001-05) to become UT's all-time shot blocker leader with 140.
Joining Dortch and Richardson in double figures were senior Courtney Ingersoll (11 points, all in second half, team-high three steals) and classmate Haylie Linn (10 points) to remain in a first-place tie with Eastern Michigan for the top spot in the MAC West Division.
"The unsung hero in tonight's game was Courtney," said Cullop, who improved to 4-0 all-time against Buffalo. "She hit a couple big three's and came up with some big steals down the stretch when we really needed them. I was extremely proud of her."
The Rockets shot a respectable 48.3 percent (29-of-60) from the field, including a slightly-improved 50.0 percent (15-of-30) over the final 20 minutes to win their fifth straight contest against Buffalo. UT also finished with a 40-37 edge on the glass and has now won the battle of the boards on 14 occasions this season.
Facing a sizable deficit, Toledo started the second stanza with a 10-2 burst to close the gap to 51-44 at 16:15, forcing UB into a timeout. Dortch contributed four points in the surge, while Richardson, junior Lecretia Smith and freshman Inma Zanoguera tallied baskets to make it a three-possession contest.
The Rockets could not pull any closer for the next 10-plus minutes, until they utilized a mini 7-3 run to trim the deficit to 63-58 with 6:03 left in regulation. The Midnight Blue & Gold received a spark off the bench from junior Kyle Baumgartner and sophomore Janelle Reed-Lewis to give them a fighting chance down the stretch.
The Bulls quickly re-established a nine-point bulge, before UT countered with a 9-0 run to complete the comeback and draw the teams even for the first time since the opening tip, 67-67, at 2:53. Ingersoll hit a pair of free throws and scored five points to spearhead the run, while Richardson and Dortch also tallied baskets.
Nytor Longar split a pair of free throws to momentarily give the lead back to UB, but Toledo's Ingersoll hit her third triple of the half to put the visitors in front for the first time, 70-68, with 2:25 remaining in the contest.
Buffalo's Longar converted a three-point play and Brittney Hedderson knocked down a jumper to give the home team the lead back, 73-70, with only 1:22 showing on the clock.
The Rockets desperately needed points with time becoming an issue and Dortch and Linn delivered with consecutive field goals to establish a lead they would not surrender, 74-73, with 35 seconds remaining.
Margeaux Gupilan misfired on the Bulls' next possession and they were forced to foul Dortch with 9.1 seconds showing on the clock. The Akron, OH native drained both charity tosses to establish a three-point bugle, 76-73.
UB quickly pushed the ball up the floor and received a layup from Teresa Semalulu. The home team was forced to foul Dortch again with only 3.1 seconds remaining.
Dortch split the free throws to keep it a one-possession game and gave the Bulls one final chance to possible force overtime, but UB was unable to get a shot off as the clock expired.
In the first half, Toledo struggled out of the gates for the second consecutive game. UT missed it first four shots from the floor, committed four turnovers and trailed 13-4 with 15:20 left in the opening period. UB's strong start was sparked by five points from Hedderson and four points each from Longar and Semalulu.
Toledo was not able to find any rhythm at either end of the court as the first half wore on and three-consecutive baskets from Buffalo's Christa Baccas made the deficit 22-12 at 9:27.
UT went on a brief spurt to close within six points, but Buffalo closed the stanza with a 23-14 run over the final six-plus minutes to open up a 49-34 advantage at the intermission. The 49 points surrendered in a half are the most by Toledo this season, surpassing Eastern Michigan's 47 first-half points on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Hedderson led Buffalo with a game-high 23 points, but the MAC's second-leading scorer was held to only seven points in the second half.
The Bulls shot 49.2 percent (27-of-63) from the floor, including 28.6 percent (8-of-28) in the second period.
"We came up with some huge stops in the second half," Cullop said. "We needed everyone of them because of the deficit we put ourselves in."
The Rockets return to action on Wednesday, Feb. 1 when they host MAC East Division foe Akron. The opening tip against the Zips is slated for 7:00 p.m. inside Savage Arena.
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